Tenants sue complex after roof collapse

North Miami residents target Gold King apartments

Carla St.Louis | 2/20/2014, 9 a.m.

Displaced tenants in North Miami filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court against Gold King Apartments after the roof of their apartment building collapsed during a rain storm.

On December 26 of last year, 11 tenants and their families were forced from their homes when the building's roof caved in the middle of the night.

The suit was drafted through Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., Florida Legal Services, Inc., and the private law firm, Hernandez Lee, LLC.

The complaint cited that Gold King Apartments, an 80-unit residential apartment complex in North Miami, failed to adequately maintain its ceiling and because of that erroneous neglect, tenants were forced to relocate and lost income.

“Landlords have a legal responsibility to provide safe and secure housing," said Jeffrey M. Hearne, Advocacy Director of the Tenants’ Rights Project at Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. "When a landlord shirks its responsibilities and causes harm to its tenants, it must compensate the tenants for their losses."

The suit alleged Gold King Apartments neglected its architecture despite receiving residents’ complaints about leakage and other unsafe conditions stemming from the roof.

Once it eventually crumbled, occupants were essentially dislocated for nearly three weeks.

During the ordeal, families lost personal property, clothing, furniture, food and wages.

The court filing also asserted residents were forced to find alternative housing without assistance from the landlord.

Once the landlord authorized tenants to move back to the building in mid-January of this year, they returned to apartments that were unlivable, filled with mold, mildew and roaches.

Manipulating the most vulnerable?

The suit also claimed Gold King Apartments systematically targeted individuals who were the most vulnerable. The plaintiffs are low-income families with children, seniors and people with disabilities.

Some continue to reside in the property, while others have found new housing as a direct result of Gold King Apartments’ hazardous conditions.

In the suit, renters accused the landlord, through intimidation, fraud and misrepresentation, of manipulating some residents to sign an agreement waiving their right to recover compensation from Gold King Apartments.

The landlord allegedly told one plaintiff, who only speaks Haitian Creole, to sign an agreement for the return of her security deposit. The document, however, was written only in English. Upon further review by an attorney on behalf of said woman, it was discovered that the document actually released Gold King Apartments from all claims.

Paul Dumornay, another litigant, who has resided in Gold King Apartments with his wife and five children for almost 14 years explained management’s intimidation tactics.

“At first, when I asked for help, the landlord said there was nothing he could do,” said Dumornay. “Now, the landlord says if I don't settle he is going to put a notice on my door and evict me.”

LSGMI is the largest provider of broad based civil legal services for the poor in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. Through the Tenants’ Rights Project, LSGMI represents low-income tenants with housing problems, such as evictions and uninhabitable conditions.

The Community Justice Project, a project of Florida Legal Services, Inc., provides legal support to Miami’s low-income communities and works on a broad range of issues from housing rights to workers’ rights.